Another utility is offering a gloom-and-doom prediction for Iowans about the cost of natural gas in the winter heating season ahead. Bob McKeon, spokesman for Black Hills Energy, says home heating costs are expected to be more than 20% higher compared to last year.

McKeon says, "Prices for all forms of energy are on the rise and despite recent declines, natural gas prices are at a historically high level for this time of year." He says while Iowa’s weather is warm now, people need to do what they can to make home improvements to keep the heat in later.

He says, "Sometimes (it’s) as easy as turning down the thermostat but it’s also caulking, weather-stripping and just kind of simple things to weatherize your home to make it more air tight." McKeon wants to make sure customers in Iowa know the increase is not helping the company’s bottom line.

He says, "We don’t profit from those costs because the cost for the gas commodity we pass through to customers without mark-up." McKeon says if you get behind on your bills, make sure you contact the utility. "Any customer concerned about their ability to pay their energy bill should call us right away," he says. "Black Hills Energy will work with them to help them maintain their natural gas service."

Customers can enroll in a monthly budget program so there are no surprises when the bill comes in the middle of winter. They also offer an energy assistance program to those who are having financial trouble. South Dakota-based Black Hills, which bought out Aquilla last month, has about 127,00 residential customers in Iowa and another 20,000 commercial customers statewide.